I recall reading the novel, I think it was after 1986, after all the novel by the legendary Stephen King was published on November 14, 1983, he, himself, once remarked it was a literary piece of work that even brought scares into his own world. The book, inspired by the death of his daughter’s cat, but since then he penned more horror for the fans of the genre to thoroughly enjoy, including the screenplay in this 1989 flick release by Paramount Pictures. Herein, 2019, it marks its 30th anniversary multiple horror conventions across the nation honoring the event, with bringing the principle key actors for the celebration, including a special Blu-ray release and even a remake of the film, all bestowing great admiration for King’s work. Likely without a doubt a lot carries over from the success of It (2017), and small screen intrigue of the Under the Dome (2013-2015) television series.
However, bringing Pet Sematary to a film adaptation, proved not so easily, first King declined numerous offers, but eventually agreed to terms with legendary filmmaker George Romero, sadly he withdrew from the project to direct Monkey Shines (1988). The reason some had suggested was due to a falling out between he and King, but none of it had any truths to it, rather the project found no interest, adding to the problem. In 1988 the Writers Guild of America conducted a strike, nevertheless Lindsay Doran, a development executive at the time pushed onward for the project with Paramount which returned to King for his penmanship on the script and the rest became history. Mary Lambert signed on for the project as no others would as they had allegiance to the writers’ guild and abandoned the film. Lambert then took over and owned both the production and the set and she also fought against the studio executives for the very young actor Miko Hughes as Gage.
Almost every horror fan, knows either a portion of the storyline from countless viewings of the film or readings of the book, therefore I’m not going to spend a lot on the plot rather reviewing the key aspects of the movie, that critics harshly panned, but had modest appearing at the box office. The story opens innocently enough, though does hammer the point home about the truck route outside Creed’s new homestead, no other cars actually shown traveling on the road, just rolling of monsters, hurrying uncaring down the backroad. All of this foreshadowing the on-coming nightmare to the audience, which comes with death of Church, the family cat. However, the secondary character that makes the film truly work, comes from the performance of Fred Gwynne (the original Herman Munster, from The Munsters), as Judd Crandell, who offers both worldly thoughts about life and humor with his quirky references and pronunciations through a rural-like accent. It shows his classic approach to the role and his technique on screen, proving the fact it’s the characters that matter, regardless of the size of the role. His style of chatting in the scenes seems nonintrusive, rather happily sharing folktales yet delivers a very creepy tone the most memorable line and in the film “Sometimes, dead is better”.
Lambert effectively present two halves of the story, the first shows a new family in the countryside, a doctor dealing with the ghostly presence of Victor Pascow who suffered injuries after being hit by a truck, warns Louis of the doom, unspeakable horrors that exist in the foul land found beyond the Sematary. Everyone who worked in the medical services, always recall the first patient they lose, sometimes carrying over into the dreams, and affecting them deeper, and that too weaves itself in the story, the questioning of death. Meanwhile, Rachel (Denise Crosby) wants to shield her children about the nature of death, a common practice, however death is a natural part of life, especially when it comes to her daughter Ellie Creed (Beau Berdahl) losing her cat. Most viewers mainly parents can relate to a Rachel, it’s often the way that children learn about the life and death, how it affects them in different ways. However, Rachel’s character does tend lean more withdrawn, which finds the ire of criticism, yet this carries back to her parents and namely her sister Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek), that individual truly ratcheted up the creep factors.
Nevertheless, the second half of the film, [spoiler] Gage’s tragic death, and the filmmakers using a bloodied sneaker to signify the brutality of the moment. That scene carries tremendous emotional weight, with fleeting moments in photographs, the parents’ fracture, each in their own hell, aside from Judd; Louis gets no support, just more blame, first from Rachel, then at the funeral his in-laws causing chaos. Louis has no comfort, or shelter for his feelings, just the salvation of the foul land of the Indians, any parent who either lost a child or knows of someone who has, clearly understands the pain, grief, and suffering. Herein, Midkiff excels in the role, his grieving grows exponentially especially the scene of holding his son’s corpse at the cemetery to his wife coming home one last time. One of the problems a lot of critics had with the movie, came from Denise Crosby and Dale Midkiff lack of on chemistry as a loving wife and husband, and yes, Dale’s portrayal as Louis Creed does lean to the standoffish and wooden acting, he later uses to the echo and sadness of losing his young son. Those tears of anger and anguish carry-over to the audience and allow them to suffer with him and strive for some redemption.
The cinematography does very well throughout the film, but the cemeteries appear very old school, almost to the level of a gothic scene, with hints of fog and soft lighting, all working to create spookiness transcending the scene and screen. Although, the movie doesn’t contain a lot of gore, except for a few scenes, Denise noted that Lambert kept apologizing and couldn’t look at her for the final sequence, and how the closeout of the movie contains some disgusting moments, but it all achieves her more acclaim for her role among horror fans. However, this film, likely contains a favorite and classic song by the legendary punk band The Ramones with their song “Pet Sematary”.
While many horror fans believe strongly in the movie, and thoroughly disagree with critics, often the way in the horror genre, the movie still holds up well against time, for it broke the common standard rules, killing children, and loving pets. Those scenes creating lasting disturbing images, but it all shows how far one might go to hold to love, however never understanding that soul doesn’t return, something else replaces the dark void, unsure most of us want to find out what lies in the land of the dead.
- Iconic terror from the No 1 bestselling writer.
- Don’t forget to put out the cat…Before the cat puts out YOU.
- A magical place where a child’s best friend can come back and live forever (as an adult’s worst nightmare). And, if it works for animals…
- Sometimes dead is better.
- A Pet Isn’t Just For Life.
IMDb Rating: 6.6/10
Baron’s Rating: 6.5/10
***On a side note, Denise Crosby and her cast mates were at the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival in March 2019 and recalled many great stories from working on the film, one the best involved Denise driving back from the set on the day they filmed Gage’s death. She spoke about driving down a dirt road in the woods to a trailer and hitting a fox, likely killing it, and she broke down crying and sobbing about this poor animal, all on the set of Pet Sematary, and she couldn’t believe the emotions pouring from herself.***